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July 18, 2014 10:41:39 AM
City staff members say they have produced a user-friendly landscaping ordinance after making minor tweaks to Starkville's current rules and cutting down the size of the document by about 20 pages.
Community Developer Buddy Sanders and City Planner Daniel Havelin presented the trimmed down document to aldermen Tuesday during the city's first public hearing on the matter. The city is expected to hold a second public hearing on the changes during the board's first August meeting and could approve the matter after discussions.
Sanders and Havelin began studying the issue after the new city planner, who has a degree in landscape engineering, was hired about two months ago. Along with the city's sidewalk rules, the landscaping ordinance drew criticism last fall from Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn and Ward 3 Alderman David Little, who described the measures as prohibitive to business.
But after minor adjustments to parking lot requirements and incentivizing tree usage in those areas, city representatives from CAO Taylor Adams to Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, who teaches landscape architecture at Mississippi State University, said Starkville will have a document that preserves the intent of the current ordinance while simplifying and easing stipulations for developers.
One of the biggest changes Sanders pointed out Thursday was the easing of landscape strip requirements along roadways. The city's current rules require lots over 5 acres must have 30-foot-wide stripping, he said, but a sliding scale for lot sizes - more or less than 2 acres, specifically - would serve as triggers for 5-foot and 10-foot requirements, respectfully, if the new ordinance is approved.
Rules for developments' interior parking areas were also amended in the draft. A provision requiring landscape islands for areas with 10 continuous parking spaces was amended to 12 spaces, while canopy tree requirements in lots were adjusted from one tree per 100 square feet to one for every 200 square feet. If approved, developers will then be able to alternate 6-foot landscaping strips for head-to-head parking spaces once their lots contain more than two rows and 100 spaces.
Another adjustment to a point system for tree placement credits in developments will further incentivize the usage of small and canopy trees as opposed to shrubs and smaller flora, he said
"There can still be flexibility in their designs with (the new changes)," Sanders said. "Sometimes with the current landscaping requirements, it's very difficult for infill lots to meet these requirements. The old ordinance, at its core, had a lot of good standards, and I feel like Daniel has helped to improve the document as a whole."
"It's a pretty good reduction as far as just being able to get through it and get the information you need without losing the requirements and what the city is trying to achieve," Havelin told aldermen Tuesday.
Only two residents spoke during Tuesday's public hearing on the matter. Ward 2 resident Milo Burnham said he appreciated the city's efforts to reduce the current ordinance's thickness, but reference materials sited by both versions were still inadequate. He also criticized the current rule's minimum requirements section, which states the ordinance promotes the city's morals.
"I do not feel it is the purpose of the landscape ordinance to protect the morals of the citizens of Starkville, and any reference to that needs to be removed," Burnham said during the hearing. "I do think it's very positive that you've reduced the number of pages and drawings, though."
City staff said they would continue exploring reference materials and could cut "morals" from the document.
"I'm very confident that the changes presented here are going to ensure the same intent we have (with the current rules), and I think this document does improve usability," Walker said. "Something we have to remember is that this document isn't static. As we move forward, we can find out issues that may need to be addressed in the future. It's a good step that maintains what is necessary and what is wanted by the community at large, but at the same time it finds balance with the city's needs and the developers'."
Former Community Developer William Snowden was tasked with reviewing the city's landscape and sidewalk ordinances last year, but his report was delayed after he resigned from his position.
About five developments, including a significant Kroger expansion, new Panda Express location and Cotton Mill Marketplace, received landscaping waiver requests from the board of aldermen for their respective projects in the last year, Sanders said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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